35 Years Ago – The Sex Pistols Break Up
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” asked a weary Johnny Rotten at the very end of the last show of the Sex Pistols‘ first (and last) US tour. The show took place at the one-time hippie haven of the Winterland in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 1978 and would be the band’s final performance. Well, at least until their 1996 reunion, anyway.
The much-hyped, sold-out show was simulcast over KSAN FM radio. “I don’t believe this is really happening folks,” said one of the announcers as the band took the stage. It was in a haze of hype, and not much glory, that the Pistols made their way to America. Most of the media attention focused on the tabloid fodder associated with that evil “punk rock” music that was set to destroy children everywhere.
The Pistols’ manager, the legendary Malcolm McLaren, thought the best plan of attack was to avoid major markets like New York City and Los Angeles, and instead, hit the deep South. The tour made stops in Atlanta, Memphis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Dallas, and Tulsa. San Fransisco was the only date on the tour that could have provided an audience tuned into the band. But, this was McLaren’s plan, figuring he would get more media mileage out of putting the band in this somewhat surreal setting. This worked to a much lesser degree than he would have hoped, in the pre-internet world of 35 years ago.
The evening kicked off with sets by two of San Francisco’s finest of the era — the Avengers and the Nuns — before the Sex Pistols took the stage. “Welcome to London!” spat Johnny Rotten as the band launched into a suitably visceral ‘God Save The Queen.’
Throughout the entire show, Rotten was in fine form, looking equally amused and angry while delivering the goods. “If you can put up with that, you can put up with anything,” he even said in bit of self-defacing humor. Steve Jones and Paul Cook held their own, but the disaster that was Sid Vicious floundered rampantly on the bass (after all, it was his second instrument of choice, just behind the syringe). Though not a total disaster, the band failed to live up to the hype that preceded them. They were figuratively at death’s door when the tour started, and San Francisco was the final nail in the coffin.
During the sole encore of the evening, a very loose version of the Stooges classic ‘No Fun,’ Rotten laid his feelings out, revamping the lyrics a bit. “This is no fun. No fun. This is no fun at all. No fun,” he sang, sounding like he meant every word. “I felt cheated, and I wasn’t going on with it any longer; it was a ridiculous farce,” he wrote in his autobiography ‘Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dog’, “The whole thing was a joke at that point.”
Rotten would leave the band before returning to the UK, and form the groundbreaking Public Image Limited in an attempt to distance himself from the entire punk scene.